Artists' Books Assignment


Students examine artists’ books, looking at how the books make meaning through text, image, and composition. Students then select a book and write an analysis of how the book makes an artistic statement.

    After completing this assignment, students will be able to

    • conduct archival research
    • read library catalogue and finding aid information
    • practice appropriate care and handling of archival materials
    • develop an analytical argument for multimodal texts

    In order to make the most of your time during your Rose Library Session, please be sure to prepare your students in advance.

    • Instructor should provide a clear goal of what students should accomplish during rotations
    • Prior to the session, students should understand what they are looking for while examining the materials
    • Students should have a clear sense of what they need to know about an object to complete the assignment successfully

    Here’s what you can expect during your class session

    • Introduction to the Rose Library (if this is the first class visit)
    • Introduction to the materials in use
    • Care and handling instructions
    • Speed dating session format

    For this assignment, students will write an analytical essay of 4-5 pages in length.

    This assignment uses the Rose Library’s artists’ books collection, from which you can see some examples here. The collection has artists books focused on a variety of topics and can fit with many course themes. Relevant collections will vary with course topics. Please consult with Rose Library staff to determine how our materials can best serve your course goals. Below are some (non-exhaustive) groupings of topics the books address.

    Ellen Knudson, Wild Girls Redux: an Operators Manual
    Julie Shaw Lutts, Alterations and Adjustments
    Robbin Ami Silverberg, The Four C's : a Textile Swatchbook
    Maria G. Pisano, Viva Voce
    Ellen Knudson, American Breeding Standards
    Alicia Bailey, Cosmeceutical Collection
    Maureen Cummins, Anatomy of Insanity
    Fiona Dempster, A Subversive Stitch
    Maryann Riker, Domestic Partners

    Nature, Animals, and Environment
    Elsi Vassdal Ellis, Aithmata = Postulates : Nature : Humans in the Anthropocene Epoch
    Andi Thrams, Field Studies No. 15, Lupinus albicaulis, or Without Apology
    Ursula Le Guin, Direction of the Road
    Sarah Press, Evolve = Unroll
    Ellen Knudson, American Breeding Standards
    Elizabeth Sanford, Backyard Food Chain
    Alicia Bailey, Extinct/Extant
    Lise Melhorn-Boe, What's for Dinner?
    Elsi Vassdal Ellis, There Goes the Neighborhood
    Brian Dettmer, We Kill One

    Violence and Trauma
    François Deschamps, Drone/ 1, 2, 3
    Ann Tyler, Billy Rabbit: an American Adaptation
    Robbin Ami Silverberg, Detritus
    Damara Kaminecki & Jeremy Schmall, The Slapdown
    Ann Tyler, The Unmaking and the Making of the World
    Amos Kennedy, Burnt Church

    Ann Tyler, Billy Rabbit: an American Adaptation
    Ann Tyler, The Unmaking and the Making of the World
    Ann Tyler, Souvenirs
    Amos Kennedy, Burnt Church

    Health and Medicine
    Alicia Bailey, Cosmeceutical Collection
    Lise Melhorn-Boe, What's for Dinner?
    Maureen Cummins, Anatomy of Insanity

    Ellen Knudson & Leah Lintner Eisenbeis, A Strawberry in the Snow
    Jeanne Germani, Tuckamore
    Mar Goman, Poems of Dylan Thomas
    Peter & Donna Thomas, The Alder
    Carolee Campbell, The Persephones
    Jen Bervin, The Dickinson Composites

    To cite this page:

    Elkins, Amy. "Visual and Material Analysis Essay," Rose Library Teaching with Archives Portal, [date of access],

    Please cite this portal and give credit to the creator when using this assignment.


    Dr Amy Elkins
    Laney Graduate School Alumnus
    Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Macalester College.

    Used In

    English 181 Writing About Literature: Literature, Space, and Gender
    Intensive writing course fulfilling first-year writing requirement, with a focus on the intersection of literature, space, and gender.


    ​​​​Suitable for a 100-level class, particularly in English and Comp Lit

    • Easily adaptable to focus on the rhetoric of the artist’s book or social and political issues the books address
    • Can be adapted as a lower stakes assignment
    • Can be adapted for an upper-level class.

    Highlighted Materials

    Course Materials

    Printable Assignment Sheet